New laws could halt the genetically modified organism (GMO) agriculture in the Philippines. This in turn could cripple the adoption of GMO technology in the Southeast Asian region as a whole, especially since the country is ASEAN’s regional pioneer in the field.

Late last year, the nation’s top court overhauled all existing laws about GMO farming, effectively halting all planting and the issuance of new permits. This came into effect only because of repetitive petitions from environmental activists and agencies such as Greenpeace, which has repeatedly gone to questionable lengths to have its voice heard.

Some critics question whether the banning of GMO plants would only just cause the Philippine economy harm, affecting poor farmers most. Many corn farmers have also voiced their concerns as GMO corn makes up nearly 70% of the nation’s 7.5 million tonnes of corn output.

 

Southeast Asia’s GMO Pioneer

GMO corn didn’t become the majority of corn produced overnight. It has been a long and hard journey for the country to be where it is at today. Considered a pioneer, The Philippines was the  first country to approve the planting and commercialization of GMO crops, starting with corn, in 2002 and the first to approve imports of GMO crops.

In fact, the chief of the plant quarantine service at the Bureau of Plant Industry, Merle Palacpac, said that the Philippines has led the region and the country’s initial regulatory framework for GMO plants has served as a “model” for other countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia to replicate.

So how come SEA’s pioneer GMO producing country is going through an ordeal that might make it unable to produce anything genetically modified in the future?

The decision of the nation’s supreme court to void the 2002 laws was partly because environmental activists have mobilized under the idea that GMO crops pose a risk to public health. The government therefore looks to tighten the environmental scrutiny before any more changes will be made to the rules.

 

Fierce Resistance from Both Farmers and Companies

However, advocates of GMO have said that there is no scientific evidence that the consumption of GMO crops is dangerous. If anything, it gives the world a more reliable supply of crops for the world’s population to sustain itself on. They also point out the potential negative consequences that would arise from banning GMO.

Due to the fact that 70% of corn in the country is GMO, and that it is the main source of animal feed for the country, any disturbance could bring about a chain of unfortunate events that would start from the livestock sector.

The decision to ban GMO late last year has been criticized because it may actually bring about a shortage the country’s food supply. The President of the Philippines Maize Federation went so far as to comment that the move was “anti-nationalistic” when considering things from a food security perspective, especially when GMO crops yielded twice the amount of the original ones.

With farmers looking to plant their crops for the next harvest, and many of the current import permits expiring in March, the government has pushed for a new set of regulations to be implemented before the end of this month. To some, it is crucial to confirm the situation as soon as possible to make sure whether there could be a food shortage in the near future.

Of course, there is resistance at every corner from the environmental activists, including Greenpeace, who feel that the government is is not taking enough time to mull over the options.

Whatever the new regulations will be, the events affecting the pioneer of GMO crops have undoubtedly left Southeast Asia in shock.

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